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The Experience of Racism on Behavioral Health Outcomes: the Moderating Impact of Mindfulness


Research shows that racial discrimination results in adverse behavioral health outcomes for African–American young adults, including risk for depression, anxiety, and substance use. Although high levels of mindfulness have been shown to reduce risk for such health outcomes, it is unknown whether mindfulness can reduce risk as a consequence of racial discrimination, particularly among African Americans. Three-hundred and eighty-eight African–American young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 (M = 20.6, 62% female) completed measures assessing past-year experiences of racial discrimination, depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, alcohol use, and trait mindfulness. A positive correlation was found between racial discrimination and the behavioral health outcomes, as well as a negative correlation between mindfulness and the behavioral health outcomes. Moreover, mindfulness was found to significantly moderate the effect of racial discrimination on mood symptoms. Although mindfulness was found to lessen the effect of racial discrimination on alcohol use, this difference was not statistically significant. In line with previous literature, racial discrimination was shown to have a negative impact on behavioral health outcomes among African Americans. Moreover, our findings provide support for the buffering effect of mindfulness on mood symptoms as a consequence discrimination. This suggests that increasing mindfulness may be an effective strategy to include in interventions targeting improvement in mood symptoms for African–American young adults. However, alternative strategies may be more appropriate to address outcomes, such as alcohol use, as a consequence of racial discrimination.

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This research is supported in part by NIH award KL2TR001106 (PI: A. Shekhar), K01DA043654 (PI: Zapolski), R25DA035163 (PI: C. Masson), and P30 DA027827 (PI: G. Brody) awarded to Tamika C.B. Zapolski and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program through the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis Center for Research and Learning to Micah Faidley.

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TCBZ coordinated the written document, wrote portions of the manuscript, and provided edits for all drafts on the manuscript. MF collaborated on the design of the study with TCBZ, oversaw the data collection, provided the first draft of the introduction, and collaborated with writing and editing of the manuscript. MB collaborated with the writing and editing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Tamika C. B. Zapolski.

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Conflict of Interest

All authors have given final approval of the version to be published. My coauthors and I do not have any conflicts of interest or activities that might be interpreted as influencing the research submitted, and this study was conducted in accordance with APA ethical standards.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Zapolski, T.C.B., Faidley, M.T. & Beutlich, M.R. The Experience of Racism on Behavioral Health Outcomes: the Moderating Impact of Mindfulness. Mindfulness 10, 168–178 (2019).

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  • African American
  • Mindfulness
  • Racial discrimination
  • Alcohol use
  • Depression
  • Anxiety